Frequently Asked Questions. Click on any question below to find out the answer
How do I find a holiday? (Using the Drifters search)
Choose a location:
This allows you to narrow down the results to the principle area that you wish to visit.
Choose a date:
Select the period in which you want your holiday to start. Bear in mind that if the search comes back with lots of pages of results, they will be listed in date order so you can skip to your ideal dates quickly.
Choose the length of time you wish to hire for – a week (seven nights), weekend (three nights), midweek (four nights), two weeks (14 nights). Or select ‘All available’ to widen the options.
Once the results of your search have been displayed (in date order), you can click on any of the column titles to re-sort the results by price, location or type.
How many people:
Our boats range in size and the number of beds provided – from just two, up to 12. You can select the number of beds you’d like and the search will look for any boats available with that number of boats. It will also show you (where possible) boats that are available with more beds.
As well as varying in size and the number of people they accommodate, our boats also offer a range of on board facilities, start days, pricing structures and exclusions. Here you can refine your search. You can be more specific about your start date. You can select boats with more than one toilet or with more than one shower. You can choose boats where pets are not allowed. You can select boats with multi-fuel stoves, or you can select only boats that have WiFi.
We also have information about canals in different parts of the country here:
How do I make a booking?
When you have found the boat you want, you can click on Book Now and fill out a form to reserve the boat.
Alternatively, you can call us on 0344 984 0322 (overseas +44 1252 796404) to make your booking. We can answer any queries you might have about the holiday at the same time. Once your booking is made and deposit paid for, we will email you the confirmation.
Our office hours are:
Mon – Fri: 09:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs
Sat & Sun: 10:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs.
What happens when I reserve a boat?
When you click on the “Book Now” button, a form appears with the details of the selected boat, dates etc.
Please complete the form with as much information as possible and ask any questions in the “Message Box”. Then Click Send.
Details of your reservation are then forwarded to the Drifters Central reservations team. On receipt of your request, we will verify that the requested dates and boat are still available and will then contact you (normally within the same or following day) directly by phone or email to confirm your booking with you.
Please note that your booking is not finalised until a confirmation has been received directly from the relevant Drifters holiday operator and a deposit has been paid in accordance with the operators’ booking terms and conditions. These are available on the boat details for each boat on the search results page or supplied by the holiday operator when confirming your booking request.
Your provisional booking is made directly with the Drifters holiday operator. Drifters accept no liability on behalf of any hire operators for any bookings, changes of availability or any costs incurred directly or indirectly in the use of this service.
How will I make my payment?
We will take the booking details and card payment over the phone. You will be contacted shortly afterwards by the Drifters member company you have booked with, so that they can confirm all the details and issue your paperwork.
What types of boat are available?
All of the Drifters Self-drive boats are modern purpose built Narrowboats. They range in size and the number of beds provided – from just two, up to 12. The number of toilets and bathrooms vary and some of the facilities on board, such as WiFi. Some have cruiser sterns and others have semi-traditional sterns.
Full details of each boat are available by clicking on the boat’s photograph in the Availability Search Results.
What is the difference between a cruiser stern and semi-trad stern?
Cruiser Sterns provide an enclosed seating area at the back of the boat, next to where it is steered.
Semi-Traditional Stern – Also known as the ‘semi-trad’, doesn’t offer seating at the back of the boat, just a safety rail. But there is a bit more space so these boats can work better if you are bringing your dog.
What areas does Drifters cover?
Drifters offers canal boat hire from 45 bases across England, Wales and Scotland. You can see exactly where they are and the routes available via our interactive canal map.
What is a boating holiday like?
Our canal boat holidays appeal to a wide variety of interests. You can get away from it all on the tranquil backwaters of the rural canals with their quaint waterside pubs, or travel through major towns and cities, mooring up to explore exciting waterside destinations along the way.
There is also plenty to do on the water itself, including piloting your own boat, operating locks, exploring backwaters, and maybe taking in a little fishing or soaking up the sun! The slow pace of the waterways is one of the main attractions to many and because you travel only as far as you wish each day, your holiday can be as relaxing or as energetic as you choose.
Do I need any previous experience?
No, you don’t need any previous boating experience and tuition is included in all our holiday packages. This will include how to steer your boat, daily boat checks, operating locks and safety instructions.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure that you are completely confident and can get the most enjoyment from being captain of your own vessel.
All Drifters boatyards place great emphasis on providing good, thorough handovers, so you will be in safe hands. Click here for more information about our handovers.
Day boat hire is a great way to test the waters if you aren’t ready to commit to a holiday. We offer day hire from 17 of our canal boat hire bases. Click here to find out more about Day Boat Hire.
Do I need a licence?
No “driving” licence is required for a hire boat on the inland waterways. Your boat will however be licenced to use the waterways managed by the relevant navigation authority and this will be included within your holiday cost. If you wish to use other waterways, you should check with the operator if a separate licence is required. This is the case if for example you begin your holiday on a Canal & River Trust waterway and want to transfer onto the River Thames or the River Avon, as they are managed by different authorities.
What is included in the price?
Your holiday hire cost will include the self-drive hire of your chosen boat for the rental period. This includes gas used, car parking, bedding, life jackets and VAT. Some companies also include the cost of fuel, whilst others charge extra for fuel used. Some companies include the cost of a damage waiver, while others make a separate compulsory charge. Some include pets, while others make a charge. The precise details of what is included are listed when you click on the photo of the boat you are considering in the Availability search.
Can I take pets?
Well behaved pets are welcome on board almost all our self-drive boats. Many of our operators include the first pet in their price, while others make a separate charge, usually between £25 and £35. Owners are asked to bring their dogs own beds.
When you click on the image of the boat you are considering hiring, there will be information about any extra charges for pets. Click here for some general information about pets on boats.
What do I need to take?
Your boat will be very well equipped with all necessary cooking utensils, crockery etc. In addition, wet weather overalls are generally provided for the helmsman and buoyancy aids are always available on request, especially for young children. Bedding is provided and sometimes towels. Your operator will provide you with a full list of what’s on board at the time of booking.
Additional specific items you may want to bring include towels, tea towels, a torch, camera, binoculars, a good waterways guide (such as Nicholson’s), enough food supplies for a couple of days cruising (check the location of convenient shops along the waterway with your hire operator), non-slip soft deck shoes and protective gloves (for working locks).
Remember also that the sun’s rays are much more powerful when you are on the water, so sunglasses, protective cream and a sun hat are recommended.
Where can I stop at night?
On the UK canals, you can stop overnight almost anywhere along the towpath side without charge. You must however avoid mooring overnight within 50 metres of a lock, tunnel entrance or other navigation landmark to allow other boats to pass unhindered. Sometimes a small charge is made at the most popular mooring sites.
On most other navigations, there will be clearly marked places where you can moor for the night or during the day. On some main Rivers this may involve a small mooring charge.
How far can I travel?
On most of the inland waterways the maximum speed is around 4 mph (a brisk walking pace). However the average speed is closer to 3 mph.
In calculating how far you can to travel in a day, you should allow 15 minutes per mile and 15 minutes per lock as a minimum. But during the busiest season, you may sometimes have to queue to go through a lock, so you should allow more time.
How do the Locks work?
Locks are used to lift or lower boats from one level to another and can be found on almost all canals and rivers.
On major rivers and waterways such as the River Thames and River Severn, the locks are manned and operated for you during the summer. On the canals, the locks are much smaller and are usually operated by you and your crew. There are some lock flights, like the Bingley Five Rise in Yorkshire and the Foxton Staircase in Leicestershire, where seasonal and volunteer lock keepers are there to help.
Operating locks is very simple and part of the fun of a boating holiday. Care must however be taken around locks and your hire operator will brief you fully when you collect your boat.
The lock consists of a chamber into which your boat passes, plus a gate or gates at either end. The lock has openings (paddles or sluices) at the top and bottom to allow water in and out of the chamber to raise or lower the water level and the boat. These paddles are opened and closed by the crew using a lock handle (windlass) on the winding gear at the top and bottom of each lock.
What is the difference between a narrow and a broad canal?
Narrow canals, like the Oxford and Stratford canals, have locks that can fit just one narrowboat in at a time. Broad canals, like the Grand Union and the Kennet & Avon canals, can fit two narrowboats or one broad beam boat in each lock.
Broad canals allow for lock sharing, which means you can share the work to open and close the gates and save water.
Can I get a brochure?
Many of our operators produce an annual brochure with lots of information about their holidays.
Can I drink and drive?
The same rules apply on the waterways as for driving a car.
How large a party can I bring?
Our largest boats can accommodate up to 12 people, but if you have a large party you could hire two boats and travel together, mooring up together at night.
Who can be in charge of a boat?
The hirer must be aged 18 or over, but they can supervise children who want to have a go at steering.
Can I hire a boat for just a day?
Yes, we offer day boat hire from 17 of our bases. It’s a great way to learn how to steer a boat, work the locks and moor up.
What if I have other questions?
You can ring our helpline 0344 984 0322 (Overseas +44 1252 796404) for help or advice.
We are open seven days a week and our office hours are:
Mon – Fri: 09:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs
Sat & Sun: 10:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs.
Each year dozens of new boats are added to our fleet, so we've published a list of our Top 12 new narrow boats for 2022 #staycation #LifesBetterByWater maidenheadgreatpark.co.uk/bio… pic.twitter.com/7RuvmnSP9v
RT @CRTBoating If you are new to cruising the #Birmingham Canal Network either as a boat owner or perhaps hiring a boat, why not try the Titford canal as a cruise? Our friends @BCNSociety have some great advice on their website ow.ly/GY4C50GVj6R pic.twitter.com/IYEg1jNyZF
RT @AngloWelsh Llangollen is a magical little town, especially at #Christmas time, so why not visit by narrowboat? From our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just two hours to cruise the lock-free stretch to this beautiful town nestled in the Berwyn Mountains 🌲 pic.twitter.com/LGhNlwxuuq
RT @AbcBoatHire The East Midlands Ring, available from Gayton Marina, is ideal for boaters wanting to test their helmsman skills and seek variety in their route. Navigating 115 locks along the way, you will cruise multiple waterways and pass through countryside, villages and cities. #staycation pic.twitter.com/9MFN4yV7em
RT @Countrymaned .@AndertonLift #Cheshire nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, and listed as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ @Drifters6 #narrowboat holidays inc passage through the Lift: t.ly/x1OF @CRTNorthWest @CanalRiverTrust @CRTBoating pic.twitter.com/0O2FKs9DAj